How to use split testing to amplify your outreach

At Kaizen, we often use a combination of logical and data-led processes to elevate our digital PR campaigns. From scoping out an idea to writing a pre-launch outreach strategy, there’s usually a process behind it. 

Something that we’re really proud to implement as part of our unique outreach process is our split testing technique and how we use these learnings to create successful campaigns. 

At times, outreach can feel like a luck of the draw – but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Sometimes one of our campaigns will fly and smash its KPI. But, when we then adopt and replicate the same techniques we deliver little to no results, which can be frustrating. What is it that we’re not getting right? By taking steps to ensure we’re tracking our outreach and considering our strategy, we can work towards bridging the gap between campaigns that fly and the campaigns that fail.

Here’s how we do it.

What is split testing?

In terms of conducting outreach for digital PR campaigns, a lot of the success can come from the story itself, especially if it’s super interesting or original. Split testing is a way in which we can take back some control in an environment where often, we can’t.

Split testing is the process of segregating your outreach and then tracking the results to inform decisions further down the line. This means splitting up templates, changing the formats and putting your analytical cap on. Split testing can be a great way to make you think more analytically when it comes to contacting journalists.

I recently conducted a Twitter poll to see how many of us are using some form of split testing, in any capacity, as part of our current digital PR strategy:

Screenshot of Twitter poll

The results show that many of us are using this technique – 67% of the 64 people who responded already do. Whilst almost 20% didn’t know what split testing was, or were unsure if they were even using it at all.

There are many ways to do outreach. It is a completely personal, subjective and fluid process with no right or wrong way to conduct it. No two digital PR or link building campaigns are the same, so why should their outreach be?

Here are just a few topline examples of how outreach is often completed for content campaigns:

Method What it means
Big list > Sent to contacts > Repeat This is a large scale list sent in a batch or distribution format. 100+ contacts all receiving the pitch, usually at the same time.
Smaller, targeted list > Sent to contacts > Repeat Maybe a list half the size of a big list. It can also just be a heavily-researched list of 10-30 contacts.
Broken down list by subject > Sent to contacts > Repeat Filtering outreach by niche such as Property, Travel and Personal Finance.
Little and often/reactive > Sent to contacts > Repeat Jumping on news hooks, responding to media alerts and journalist requests. Very small scale lists of contacts.

Here’s how to split test pitch emails

Step 1) Identify your campaign themes

If you haven’t already, break up the obvious themes and topics in your digital PR story. These can be the different news desks you plan to send it to, the different angles you’ve broken your data into, or the different targets your client has outlined in their brief. 

Also consider getting granular with this – rather than technology as a broad term, what about Cyber Security? Data Breaches? Virtual reality? Be sure to make note of these too if you think they’re relevant.

Step 2) Write your pitch template

In a document, using your usual format or style, draft a pitch template that you would use to share your story with journalists. Be sure to include the subject line here too as this will need to be split tested. 

Include whatever you fancy, we all have our go to’s.

Step 3) Change up your pitch template

This is where we start our testing. From your original ‘hero’ pitch we start making changes to the email template. 

There are too many changes we could trial to list them all, but ones to try out:

    1. Use an emoji in the headline
    2. Include an image within the body of the pitch
    3. Use a table
    4. Use a top 10
    5. Use bullet-pointed info and highlighted comparisons
    6. Paste the full URL to the campaign
    7. Hyperlink on a keyword, such as ‘study’
    8. Include a link to a press pack
    9. Include the press release underneath
    10. Don’t include a press release at all
    11. Follow up with a press release
    12. Follow up with a question
    13. Open with a question
    14. Be blunt with your follow up – ‘Have you given up on this story?’
    15. Give the journalist story ideas and include other headlines within the pitch
    16. Extremely short pitch
    17. Longform pitch
    18. Send it at 8am
    19. Send it at 11am
    20. Send it at 2pm
    21. Use the brand’s name in your subject line
    22. Use an awareness day within the subject line and/or pitch
    23. Personalise it
    24. Don’t personalise it

I could go on for a long time. 

The key thing to remember is, there are so many different ways to conduct outreach that it feels wasteful to send the exact same pitch to all of your contacts at once without trialling other options. 

Also, should the Health Editor at the Daily Mail, a top tier publication, receive the same effort/pitch as a niche health advice blog? Probably not. We like to teach our outreach specialists that there is a real difference between these types of contacts. 

For junior team members or newbies to our world of digital PR, split testing is a great exercise to practice to create their own flair and tone of voice. It also develops their understanding of what works for different sectors.

Step 4) Assign contacts a different label

Once you have a few email pitches in place, that’s at least two different pitches for each angle, split up your prospecting list and assign contacts. 

We’ve found that split testing can be a great way to approach two journalists who work on the same desk at a national publication. This is how we assign our contacts in our prospecting lists:

Assigning contacts in a prospecting list

Step 5) Send your outreach

We use Buzzstream to send our outreach. Set up different sequences in the platform and label these in the same way you’ve assigned contacts in your prospecting list. Depending on your own preference, group together contacts to send the email to. This can be 10, 20, even 40 people.

What we typically have at this point is a number of templates that fall under the different angles that have been sent out (2x Property, 2x Travel and 2x Personal Finance, for example). Each template has been developed from the original ‘hero’ pitch but now offer different split testing elements.

Split testing outreach emails

Step 6) Analyse the results

Sit back and wait until your outreach has gone out to your chosen publications. Within Buzzstream, we can see the open rate (%), number of opens and number of replies we’ve received. With this information, we can determine a pitch template’s success by comparing open rates, replies, and most importantly, if any resulted in coverage or links. 

The winning option is the template we want to develop and send to larger lists of contacts as clearly it’s working – so we run with it! Take this template further and send to more contacts.

Step 7) Review your findings, make edits if you need to, repeat

Low open rates, no replies, and no links? This happens too. 

It’s important to go back and assess your outreach and get the insight from someone else who hasn’t worked on the campaign. This can help you to change up your strategy and continue to split test until you see results.

Split testing outreach tips

Adding split testing to your current outreach process can be relatively smooth and easy. Here are a few tips to consider before giving it a go:

  • Consistency. Keep trialling split testing to get it to a point where it works for you– outreach is fluid and split testing is too.
  • Split testing should be a key part of a juniors outreach training. Try and avoid teaching junior team members to follow a ‘one template only’ format when it comes to outreach. Not only can this be boring for them, ultimately making outreach feel like a mundane task, but it ensures we’re continuing to think about the story element of the campaign long after the concept is signed off.
  • All split testing is, is being clever with trial and error. With this process, we’re essentially monitoring how well something works, or doesn’t work, and taking learnings from this. It shouldn’t change your whole strategy, just compliment it in some way.
  • It might not work for you. For me the best thing about outreach is how differently we all approach it. If you’ve already found your rhythm with outreach, that’s cool too.

Have you seen success with split testing? Get in touch with me on Twitter or via Kaizen.

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